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Kiyofumi Iwata

【#873】Japan Should Be Serious about Developing Arrangements to Protect People

Kiyofumi Iwata / 2022.01.19 (Wed)

January 17, 2022

Last October, the Taiwanese defense minister indicated China could be ready to mount a full-scale invasion of Taiwan by 2025. Last June, the U.S. Indo-Pacific commander told the Senate Armed Services Committee that China would become capable of invading Taiwan in or after 2027. Given these remarks, a China-Taiwan armed conflict could break out in 2025 or later.

Looming Japan contingency

A Taiwan contingency would lead to a Japan contingency. Okinawa Prefecture’s Sakishima islands including Yonaguni would be included into a China-Taiwan battlefield. In a bid to separate Japan from the United States, China could launch cyberattacks, economic intimidation, political maneuvering, disinformation through fake news and other “gray zone” attacks (that fall short of armed attacks) on the entire Japanese archipelago. In the worst case, China could threaten to mount nuclear attacks on Japan.

U.S. power has been weakening comparatively. Last April, the U.S. strategic commander told the Senate Armed Services Committee that there would be limits on U.S. nuclear deterrence against China. The U.S. Indo-Pacific commander reportedly told the Pentagon last year that U.S. conventional forces could also fall short of blocking Chinese forces’ hegemonic expansion into the Western Pacific.

At a time when a Japan contingency is looming and an age for Japan to be assured that U.S. forces would defend Japan in emergency is ending, what should Japan do?

By the end of this year, the Japanese government will formulate a new national security strategy, a new national defense program outline and a new five-year defense buildup program, which would set forth a basic policy to determine Japan’s fate and secure Japan’s survival and prosperity. We should have a sense of crisis that Japan is destined to be swallowed by China unless Japan’s defense power can really fight and defend the nation.

Playing with numbers lacking a sense of crisis

Media reports play up that defense spending’s share of gross domestic product in Japan in fiscal 2021 stands at 0.95% under Japanese government standards and at 1.24% under North Atlantic Treaty Organization standards. In the current situation where Japan is on the frontline of the new U.S.-China Cold War, those getting hung up on the figure of 1% of GDP lack a sense of crisis regarding the changing national security environment.

There are some arguments calling on Japan to reduce ground forces as China does, including a Nikkei Shimbun newspaper article on December 31. As a strategy of Japan giving top priority to its national defense is far different from that of a country attempting an external hegemonic expansion, the simple comparison of their ground, maritime and air forces lacks strategic thinking and ignores the essence of homeland defense.

These arguments are playing with numbers. The most important point might be whether Japan can protect its people with its current defense capabilities. The time has come for Japan to address the crisis it now faces and demonstrate its seriousness about developing arrangements to really protect its people.

Kiyofumi Iwata is a councilor at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals. Formerly, he served as Chief of Staff of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force.